By RICK BROWN
Bryson DeChambeau got a history lesson Sunday. And it turned him into an emotional wreck.
The newest John Deere Classic champion had no idea that one of his idols, Payne Stewart, won his first PGA Tour event in the Quad Cities in 1982. DeChambeau wears the same Ben Hogan-style hat that Stewart did. And now he can also claim his first PGA Tour triumph a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River.
“I didn’t know his first win was here,” sDeChambeau said. “When they told me about it, it broke me.”
DeChambeau, like Stewart, attended college at SMU. Both earned a reputation as free spirits. But there is one big difference. Stewart accepted a first-place check for $36,000 in 1982. DeChambeau’s come-from-behind victory was worth $1,008,000.
“God Bless him,” DeChambeau said of Stewart, who won three major championships before his death in a 1999 plane crash. “He did some amazing things for the game of golf. I hope I can do something similar down the road.”
DeChambeau made some history of his own at TPC Deere Run’s 18th green, holing a 14-foot birdie putt that was Sunday’s definitive stroke. DeChambeau pumped his fist, then looked skyward and screamed for joy after holing it.
His final-round 65, highlighted by a back-nine 30, and a rough finish by Patrick Rodgers earned DeChambeau a big check and a spot in next week’s British Open at Royal Birkdale.
“I can’t believe it,” said DeChambeau, raising his arms in the air.
Rodgers nearly holed a birdie chip on the 18th hole that would have forced a playoff. Instead, his final-round 70 left him on the outside looking in.
Rodgers was the 36-hole and 54-hole leader, but couldn’t quite get to the finish line.
“It was a great experience,” Rodgers said. “Your tendency when you have the lead is to kind of hold on and play safe and guard against mistakes. But I had guys coming at me with some really low rounds. Obviously, Bryson had a great one today.”
DeChambeau got off to a slow start Sunday. He was 1 over par for the day through seven holes, with no birdies. He also went the final six holes of his third-round 70 without a birdie.
And then he made them in bunches. DeChambeau birdied seven of the final 11 holes to became the ninth different player under 25 years old to win a PGA Tour tournament this year. Those nine players have combined to win 14 times, the most on tour since 1970.
DeChambeau was once the answer to a trivia question: name the five players who won the U.S. Amateur and NCAA title in the same year? The answer is Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, defending Deere champion Ryan Moore and DeChambeau, who did it in 2015. That’s also the year he played in his first John Deere Classic on a sponsor’s exemption.
Now he’s a winner on the PGA Tour, and the 21st player to make the John Deere Classic his first career victory.
DeChambeau trailed Rodgers by three shots with five holes to play. But the script flipped at the most unlikely of places. The par-4 14th and par-5 17th holes are, statistically, the easiest on TPC Deere Run’s back nine.
DeChambeau birdied both those holes. Rodgers bogeyed them. That four-shot swing proved to be the difference.
“I was kind of shocked to see him bogey 17,” DeChambeau said. “I thought I was going to be in a playoff after making that putt (on 18).”
For Rodgers, DeChambeau‘s rally ended what looked like destiny.
He played in his first PGA Tour event here in 2012. He attended his first tour event as a spectator here. And he briefly held the lead in the third round in 2013 before tying for 15th. And he nearly made this the site of his first career PGA Tour triumph.
“This would have been a really special one,” said Rodgers, 25. “I’m holding my head high and looking forward to winning soon.”
Wesley Bryan and Rick Lamb tied for third at 16 under. Lamb closed with a 66, Bryan took the lead by himself for a stretch when he birdied five straight holes starting at No. 13. He shot a back-nine 30 for a closing 64.
Bryan made his PGA Tour debut at the 2016 Deere, earning a battlefield promotion when he won for the third time on the Web.com Tour the week before. Bryan tied for eighth in his first look at TPC Deere Run.
Two former Deere champions, Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson, made spirited climbs up the leaderboard but ran out of gas at the end. They tied for fifth, along with another former Deere champ, Jonathan Byrd, Scott Stallings and Daniel Berger.
Stricker, who won three straight Deere titles (2009-2011), moved into a share of the lead at 16 under par with his eighth birdie of the day at No. 17. But he bogeyed the 18th to finish at 15 under.
Sticker had made the cut on the number after opening rounds of 73-67, but closed 65-64 to make things interesting.
“I finally got some momentum going,” Stricker said. “I wish I could have had that first day over again. Even if I had shot a couple under, it would have been hopefully a different story.”
A third-round 70 proved to be costly for Johnson, the 2012 Deere champion. He started Sunday’s final round five shots back of Rodgers, but still worked his way to the top of the leaderboard for a spell.
Johnson had a chance to be the first player to reach 17 under, but missed a four-foot birdie putt from above the hole on the par-4 14th. That miss also took away Johnson’s back-nine momentum.
“It’s easy to pick that apart right now,” Johnson said.
He then bogeyed No. 15 after missing the fairway off the tee.
“I didn’t hit that bad of a tee shot on 15. You just can’t hit it in the rough there. I still had a chance. But leaving some putts short, mishitting some putts, pushing some putts, that was the story certainly my last nine holes.”
Stricker and Johnson ended up in a tie for fifth, It was Johnson’s seventh Top 10 finish at the Deere since 2009, and the sixth for Stricker.